Episode 43

From Saffron Jack by Rishi Dastidar

Rishi Dastidar reads an extract from Saffron Jack and discusses the poem with Mark McGuinness.

This is an extract from:

Saffron Jack by Rishi Dastidar

Saffron Jack book cover

Available from:

Saffron Jack is available from:

The publisher: Nine Arches Press

Amazon: UK | US

Bookshop.org: UK

 

From Saffron Jack

by Rishi Dastidar

61. A jolly in the sub-continent

             61.1. when the sub-continent was ours –

             61.2. no, theirs –

                         61.2.1. to be jollied.

62. Two mad-dog Englishmen, short on high Victorian imperial boredom, long on chutzpah and capers

             62.1. smuggle some guns into some country.

                         62.1.1. The Kafiristan Job.

             62.2. Then some cunning, some chance, some shooting

             62.3. and one of them ends up running the show.

             62.4. The locals reckon he’s the Son, and they all start bowing down to him.

                         62.4.1. Just like that.

 

63. And you thought, wouldn’t that be bloody cool. Well, not just to be Sean Connery, that obviously would be bloody cool. But. You know, it’d also be cool to just control somewhere, especially a somewhere when you’ve felt that you’ve never fitted in wherever the where is you’re from. And then have loads of people suddenly decide that, yes, despite the fact that you look different, sound different, talk different, and scare them with your guns and what have you, still you’re a better bet than the current fat nabob they have, who goes around taking their bread from them, their grain from them, their money from them, taking their wives and daughters from them whenever he fancies, with only a little bit of prompting and cajoling, a twinkling smile or two which they understand even if they don’t understand what the smile is saying; they take that and the guns and the weapons and the drill and the tactics and the confidence you’ve given them, and they surround the fat nabob’s palace in a ring of chanting, heaving, determined bodies which won’t shift, and if he tried to sneak through he’d get sucked into a maw of flesh like being sucked into a whirlpool, so the nabob’s got no other choice but to give in and throw his hands up, throw his crown up, his queen up, and when he looks round at who to give them to so he isn’t torn into pieces the size of the stamps with his fat head on them, and the crowd are growling and shuffling and getting ready to start pitching sharp things at him, it’s only when he looks at you with the crown in one hand and imploring gesture being made by the other, and his eyes are watery and pleading and hopeful and hopeless and scared, and the crowd suddenly hush as they see where he’s looking, and you suddenly feel your arm lifting and your hand reaching out and you gently trace the band of the crown once round to make sure it is real, and then you close the whole of your hand around it, and you snatch it with a jerk, and look at it in the same way you looked at her when she slowly undressed that night in your room and then before anyone can do anything, take anything away, you put the crown on your head, pretending you’re not being reverential (but you are a bit), trying to be that cocky and cool person that all the people down there have been inspired by, and now should be slightly scared of, and then there’s a moment of pure, utter silence like you get at 4am, when everything is still or dead, and then you’re almost blown back by this gust or noise, this rush of love and fear and hope and expectations and dreams, all in this one blast, this one expansion of emotion.

 

64. Yeah, that’d be cool.

             64.1. Yeah, that’d be fucking cool.


 

Interview transcript

Mark: Rishi, where did this poem come from?

Rishi: Oh, Mark. This has a lot of antecedent running through it and buried in with it. It formally came from watching the adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King, that was made by John Houston, the film in 1973,1974, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. And yeah, I was watching that one bank holiday afternoon on the telly, and something clearly lodged in there. And I hadn’t read the Kipling Novella at that point, but there was something in that about the sort of just the sheer outlandishness of the conceit and the concept that was in the film and the reviews of the performances that snagged me.

So, I had that floating around as a thing. And then a few years later I stumbled across a blog post on a blog called BLDGBLOG written by Geoff Manaugh, who’s an architectural critic and design historian. And that blog just focuses on lots of wonderful oddities in and around the urban landscape and things around future architecture, and what have you. And this particular post was about a particular geographical anomaly called Baarle-Hertog, which is a place in both the Netherlands and Belgium. And I say both because it’s one of those places that straddles the border there. But…

Mark: Oh, fantastic.

Rishi: The border there exists, but doesn’t exist. And it’s a very it, well, it was a contested thing, but the real striking thing about it is that it runs through houses, it runs through bathrooms, it runs through living room. So, in one house you can have your kitchen and bathroom be in Belgium, your living room and bedroom being in the Netherlands. And, and it does that through pubs, post offices, what have you. And it’s not a big place, but just that sheer fact that we could still have these geographical anomalies in Europe tickled me. And somehow those two ideas got fused in my head, this idea that one could go to a place and basically become a ruler of it. And just the sheer practicalities of how one might actually go around and setting up your new country, a new country, as it were. And that was the real genesis of it.

And I started to dig into these things called micronations which are, for those of you who don’t know yeah, there are plenty of countries on the planet. And it can feel like every year there are more being added. But within those countries, there are plenty of people who don’t particularly want to be in those countries themselves. And one of their responses to that isn’t to emigrate, as you might think, but to actually set up their own little countries within countries themselves. And so, for those of us in Britain, the probably the most famous and prominent example of that is Sealand, which is, yeah. I think just off the coast of Kent, Suffolk, but in the channel, but is the disused military fortress Towery type thing, which was taken over by this family in the sixties and declared its own independent republic.

And so, there’s always been, that notion as well has always tickled me. And when you start to dig into it, you find that this is a very common thing, that plenty of people around the world have decided that for whatever reason, they want to go off and do that. So, there are those three strands all woven into the book. And then as it, as it started to emerge, it felt like this, it was becoming a vehicle to talk, to use that as a frame and a lens to start to talk about more contemporary concerns and more contemporary issues around what’s going on in Britain.

My background as a second-generation person of colour in Britain as well, and be able to use that to actually talk about issues of identity, issues of by belonging and what it is to actually try and be in a country that you are part of, but might not necessarily part of as well. All of that makes it sound like that there was a very distinct and obvious plan for it. There wasn’t at all, this was a product of a lot of iteration, a lot of tinkering, a lot of thinking. And it took over 10 years from initial idea and getting the first sort of bits down on paper to it actually being published. And it certainly didn’t look like the final form that it’s in for a good eight of those years. It took a long time to find the thing that actually unlocked it to make it work poetically.

Mark: There’s quite a lot of ingredients here.

Rishi: Very much so.

Mark: I mean, at what point did you think, okay, these are coalescing into a thing that maybe I’m excited about to write about?

Rishi: It took a while. It took a while because it lived in the bottom drawer for a good, yeah a good couple of years. There was a first rush of excitement around writing it, maybe about 2009, 2010. And at that point, it was living as a dramatic monologue. Just a big, just a big chunk of text. And I just felt the voice was very, just too much. It wasn’t a voice that once I’d finished that draft, I didn’t want to spend any time with it. And if I didn’t want to spend any time with it, I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to spend any time with it.

So, shoved it away for a couple of years and then took it out again and started to hack it, and it was really hack it into something that felt a bit more like blank first. And that started to allow some space to come into it. And so it started to not make it feel as dense, and just start to allow people listening a bit of foothold into the various concerns that again, but again, it was, there was just something horribly bombastic and just not particularly pleasant about the voice. So, again, I shoved it away for a couple of years.

And then it was probably about 2017, 2018, maybe a bit earlier. I read a poem in the American Poetry Review called ‘How to Look at Mexican Highways’ by Mónica de la Torre who’s a American poet. And, no, actually, Malika Booker had brought it into Malika’s Kitchen, and I remember looking at it and having one of those light bulb moments going, ‘Ah, okay, this is a thing that I could potentially use, be inspired by borrow to unlock this thing that I’ve been struggling with.’ And because that poem was written as a series of numbered steps, which I hadn’t seen in a poem before, I thought, that’s interesting what happens when you apply that on a much longer and more involved basis, because the de la Torre poem is not long. It’s only about 14 lines or so.

You know, so, the effect is there, but it’s not quite you know, it’s not extended in any sense. And so the artistic insight stroke borrowing for me was what happens when you really string it out and pull it out and see what happens. And what I discovered was just by applying that, suddenly provided the counterpoint that Jack’s voice needed, because it went from being a voice that was, yeah, unanchored. And so feeling very unmoored in its ravings, and its riffs and its various curlicues as it works through its obsessions. By putting this sort of numbered framework onto it, it suddenly takes the voice into a world that’s legalistic. So, it feels like potentially legal argument, scientific, so, you know, so it feels like a scientific report. And so, that sudden juxtaposition of a rational scaffolding for something that can be seen as quite irrational relevance.

Mark: Yeah.

Rishi: Suddenly that’s the creative tension. That’s the energy that then powers the rest of the poem. And so, as it turns out, it, it was voice in search of the scaffolding that it needed to then work poetically. So, it was eight years of casting around until a reading a poem suddenly just unlocked it artistically.

Mark: And I can hear the excitement in your voice, which I think is a wonderful thing, that when you found a form that just seemed to match or ignite the subject matter, and then you have this lovely question, what if? What if I take this form in a different direction?

Rishi: Yeah. And it wasn’t like I could immediately see, all right, this is how it’s going to be solved. But it was one of those, you know, I remember the sheer pleasure of just actually being able to work through it and then suddenly being able to go, ‘Ah, right, okay, now I can see where I can push. Now I can see where I can start to really exaggerate the comic effect. Now I can see where I can really hold back to actually land more forceful points, you know, land riffs in a much more forceful way.’ But then also start to think about, okay, how do I actually start to lineate and create energy and create line breaks to have that more poetic feeling going through as well?

So, it was almost as if, you have a piece of text and you are then able just to go in and not reverse engineer, but you’re basically able to find the poetry that you sort of know is there lurking, but really then be able to start to sculpt it. And it feels slightly strange to talk about a book that presents itself as quite rational as being sculpted, but it is to a certain sense sculpted, because that’s how I was finding the poetry that is in there in something that looks quite prosy, organically.

And just by chipping away and finding it and the accidental return, you know, and hitting that and seeing, oh, okay, that feels like a flow. That feels like a run, that feels like a verse new thought moving on to another stance-like feeling in this section. And so, yeah, once the structure was there, it’s then, yeah, for me it was a very inductive process of finding where the poetry lands, and how it starts to emerge in there as well. And yeah, again, exploiting and using that tension that’s inherent within there of knowing that the voice has to run into something that’s rational and then that almost causes it up. So, it goes again.

Mark: That’s very interesting, because as you describe it there, I can really see even particularly in the bit you just read, how that works rhythmically, because on the one level you’ve got these 61, 61.1, 61.2, 0.2, 0.1, on one level, it’s logical hierarchy. And when you see it laid out on the page, it’s just like one of these scientific reports that your eyes glaze over. And logically, within any one of those categories, there could be any amount of information, I guess that it could be just a couple of words or it could be a whole paragraph. And or as we’ve got here, you’ve got, I don’t know it’s at least a couple of pages, the long bit, the scene with the nabob. And as you’ve said that dramatically, that works really well because you’ve got really short lines just like that and yeah, that’d be cool. Juxtapose it with this enormous kind of flow of drama, and action and so on. But yeah, you’ve really got the rational, and the emotional in step there, haven’t you?

Rishi: Yes. Yeah. And, yeah. And again, truthfully, that’s the only way that you could make some, or at least I could make something like this work, because otherwise the danger of it just feeling like unedited, you know, not indistinct trend, but something that just wouldn’t, you know, you need shape to provide argument, I think and shape, to provide a context to help the reader through stuff, which is otherwise obsessional and as poet’s, okay, part of our job is to provide shape to that obsession, but especially when something’s going over 120 pages, right? You want to make sure that you’re not the, you’re making it easy for a reader per se, but you know, you’re giving them a hand through.

Mark: Actually it does it, I mean, it’s a kind of cliché to say I read it in one sitting, but actually I did with this. And I think part of it was the numbering really made it easy for me to just swing from one to the other, and just get, and kind of just be drawn through it. So, it’s interesting you’re hearing, you saying it was almost like, is it a way of ordering it compared to what it was before?

Rishi: Yes, I think so. Yeah, I think a way of ordering it, but also just yeah, it’s a way of gathering thoughts. And so Jack is not me clearly, but there are strong elements of him that come from me. And so, at one level you can read it as Jack ordering his thoughts while he’s in this particular situation. And reflecting on how he’s got to the past that he’s at, and then what happens next at that point. And so, I guess, like in certain states when you are in confusion, and trying to sort things out. Yeah. Writing them down is one way of doing that. And then putting them into a list that maybe helps sometimes. I’m not sure it does, particularly in Jack’s case, but, you know.

Mark: Yes. And you know, you mentioned the word obsession earlier on, and I think it’s fair to say that Jack is, comes across as an obsessive. Poets are obsessive, as you say. I guess if you’re going to set up your own micronation, you’d need to be fairly obsessive too, wouldn’t you?

Rishi: Yeah, I think so. And I think, yeah, when reading about the characters, and let’s be blunt, mostly men who go off and do this. Very male thing to do, yeah, absolutely, obsession comes through, and it’s an obsession that’s fired by something, whether it’s perceived injustice, a slight, often for a number of the Australian ones, it’s a, you know, that sort of suspicion of state and federal government and often the sense that you’re quite far away from anything that looks like a governmental outpost. And so you can imagine in big empty spaces, you know, dreams of megalomania do start to percolate, right? Who is here to stop me, who is here to actually be a bigger source of control over me when all that’s above me is sky and all that’s around me is desert. So, I think there those sorts of ideas marinate in that sort of space.

I was particularly interested in the idea of what would one response to racism feeling outside the society that you happen to be in? What would taking agency in that situation actually look like? And it just felt like it was pushing on an extreme, the extreme answer would be to go set up your own country, because then obviously you can’t fall victim to racism in a country that you’ve set up. And you’ve become king of. Yeah. And when you express it in prose coldly like that, of course it just sounds like, like an absolutely ludicrous idea. But I think, yeah, again, that’s the power of poetry, of the poem that you can explore a conceit like that, you know, the character’s response to feeling unmoored, adrift in the society that they happen to be in is to declare, ‘Fine, I will become king of my own society, king of my own country.’

And on some level it is just an interesting working through of why might someone be driven to go to that extreme, and also some of the mechanics of what is actually in that process of doing so. I love digging into the UN Convention stuff about what actually goes into making a state estate, right? Yeah. What are the things you actually need to qualify as a country especially as since the end of the Second World War objectively the number of countries that there are on the planet has gone up as we, you know, as more empires have splintered and at last count, it’s like 212, 220 countries now, which considering at the end of the First, Second World War was maybe something like 150. So, yeah. This desire for people to live in homelands nations that are closer and more contiguous to where they might be, is not a new one. I think there’s a line in the poem that says countries are a boom market, a growth area, you know. So, it felt like it was a chance to explore those sorts of ideas as well.

Mark: Okay. So, I’d just like to come back to the kind of, some of the themes that you’ve touched on around sovereignty, around race, and also picking up a certain ambivalence about the voice. You know, you said that in the early drafts, the voice, you didn’t want to spend time with it. And I think this passage you read is a, I don’t know, I felt quite ambivalent reading it, because on the one hand you’re saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be bloody cool to be Sean Connery? And he’s going in and he’s the big man.’ But actually when you look at the original movie, and you think of the whole kind of imperial context, it’s a little uncomfortable. But the way you write it, it’s so seductive because who wouldn’t want to be the big man? And everybody looking at you, and the moment you read it, you almost feel like you are colluding in something like that. So, maybe you could say something about that voice, and the whole ambivalence, and how that touches on those themes.

Rishi: Yeah. So, I think it helps to realize that that voice is almost expressing something from a point of weakness, a point of being bullied. And almost one of the natural reactions is how do you get out of that? Well, of course, it’s to have some sort of power and some sort of power to go back and, you know, oppress maybe, not even necessarily set out to do that in that way, but that classic reaction of, oh, I’ll show you. And yeah, and that note is absolutely unapologetically in there as a character. You know, as a character note to Jack, he is not a particularly well-rounded personality, let’s put it like that, and yeah.

And deliberately so, and extremely so, because again, I thought there was something potentially interesting to explore what an extreme reaction to not belonging to a modern society and a modern multicultural society might actually look like. And so, there’s one potential reading here, which is it is an allegory about people who run off to join Islamic State or run off to join other freedom fighting – or ‘freedom fighting’ in inverted commas, I should say – organizations. And again, there’s something interesting in that, because I think there are, yeah. We must tread lightly in dangerous waters to talk about this sort of stuff.

So, let’s start on the basis that growing up, and certainly I’m 45 now, so learning about British imperial history, learning about the British Empire was at best in school, a very one note, relatively flat monotone, pretty single straight narrative, which was broadly speaking, ‘Britain as a country, somehow – don’t know how – accidentally ended up with control of all these countries. But we, out of all the other European nations, who ended up accidentally with control of the world, was better at decolonizing and giving away power to these countries than anyone else comparatively.

‘And so, therefore, you know, we get a relatively free pass for doing so, and you know, all the inheritance that we left behind, you know, railways, parliament, etc., etc.’

And one of the most heartening, exciting, wonderful things intellectually speaking over the last 10, 15 years, is to see the pushback and the challenge to that pretty flat monomaniacal myth, right? To actually add texture to that story, to actually go, hang on, hang on, hang on. You know? Yeah. That myth of how empire was gained, what it meant for people on the ground in that quarter of the world, what it meant for Britain coming in terms of the country back here, all of those things need to be opened up and thought about again, and thought about more deeply.

And if it’s not too grand to say, I hope that Jack is one small intervention in trying to tell and complexify that story to actually show that as the phrase has it, ‘We are here because you were over there.’ Okay, fine. But within that, there is a hell of a lot more depth about what being here now means, and a lot of space to actually think about what belonging in that context means as well. And especially in the gaps that British identity deliberately facilitates and deliberately works through. And so, all of that makes it sound very dense and grounded, forbidding. But these are, for a lot of people, things that we carry, things that we work with, and live through every day, whether we think about it or not. And they are things that are expressed through culture as much as anything else.

And so, that’s why you come back to Kipling, right? Kipling is a really interesting figure precisely because of his role in terms of being born in India, very much as a personality, viewing himself as part Indian because of that. But at the same time being an absolute cheerleader for the high and mighty and higher-minded aspects of, ‘the Imperial project’ and how it was the civilizing force and all the rest of it, and yeah. And what have you. But at the same time, he was very well aware of the corrupting nature that it could have as well. And at one, you know, when you go and read The Man Who Would be King, and when you see the film, right, as much as much as there is, you know, it is jollies and japes and stuff, there’s a degree to which it’s a precursor to Conrad in terms of actually looking into the dark heart of what this stuff actually does to you, you know. And, you know, is it too much to say, draw a direct link to what happens in High Victorian to now? Yes. But at the same time, there are legacies and ideas of cultural thought that are transmitted that you can’t just sort of pretend aren’t there and haven’t had some impact and some reaction in the 100-150 years since.

Mark: And, you know, you say, this is big and, and heavy and weighty stuff, but I think one of the delights of the book is the way you managed to get all of that into such a frankly entertaining package. And also, I mean, so The Man Who Would Be King, the movie was released in the seventies, and based on the story of the same name by Kipling, but the way you introduce it earlier in the book/poem, because this is an excerpt from a longer book-length piece. Maybe we should have made that a bit clearer at the beginning. You talk about what is a kind of quintessential British experience being at home on a wet bank holiday hoping there was something good on TV. This was when, you know, days when there was only about three channels.

Rishi: Yes. That’s right.

Mark: And then Jack finds himself watching The Man Who Would Be King. So, maybe you could just say something a bit about that experience and also the kind of movie this was for, you know, maybe people who didn’t grow up with this, this was standard fare for us when we were small.

Rishi: Yes. Yeah. So, the movie is directed by John Houston, so, and it was one of his final movies or so, so it’s, you know, it’s Hollywood. And yeah, and starring Sean Caine – not Sean Caine, Sean Connery! [Laughter] and Michael Caine. But that in of itself gives you a tenor of what clearly the producers were after, something that’s a bit Italian Job, something that’s a bit Bond-like. And there’s something, you know, and I think Houston adapted and wrote the script as well, so, clearly was, you know, had spotted something that felt modern for the times in terms of the adventureness of the young. And so, knowing when it came out, is it too much of a stretch to suggest that this, it slots into that sense of, oh, this is a Bond-like movie. This is a quintessentially British thing that we do. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to do that.

And I’ve not watched the film for a long time now, but in my memory of it, there is a fair degree of, you know, those thematic motifs that you would recognize from a Bond or an Italian Job of derring-do, a bit of cunning, a bit of wit to, you know, and that sense of, oh yeah, we’re going to, yeah. This thing that we are doing, if you looked at it coldly and objectively, you’d be like, okay, you’re lunatics your maniacs. But because tonally it’s done with a bit of japes and thumbs up and what have you. It’s somehow totally…

Mark: Jolly.

Rishi: Yeah. Literally a jolly, I mean, yeah, draw the parallel with the Italian Job, right?

Mark: Yeah.

Rishi: Ostensibly, this is a film about a bank robbery, and yet we don’t, yeah. We don’t think of it as a grand act of criminality. Instead, we spend two hours cheering on these criminals and okay, I’m not going to go too far as to suggest that a lot of high Victorian culture was doing similar for a similarly ruthless project, but there’s a degree of that, right? Where tone matters vitally in terms of disguising some of the intentions and the objectives of projects where if you lay them out boldly and ruthlessly, you’re suddenly horrified at the, my God, we actually are doing this. We’re actually trying to go ahead and subjugate people, and that sort of stuff.

And so, clearly that sort of notion of almost seeing through that veneer of that particular cultural artefact as someone who’s brown, even at that young age and sort of like twigging that something’s not quite right here and that something, you know, I don’t quite belong to that story. You know, that’s something that’s in the poem definitely. In terms of, because that’s the other thing, right? Growing up when you are in a minority, you are to a degree always thinking about where do I locate myself? How do I locate myself in this stuff? Where can I find a bit to nestle in and belong to? And there’s, you know, growing up, there’s very, very few stories. There were very few stories, very few programs where you would see yourself, well, I would see myself as a protagonist. Maybe there in the background of stuff, but it’s only as the nineties start to progress that you start to see more Asians in places where they start to feel more like leading heroes or leading characters and what have you.

And I don’t want to oversell the idea that’s a huge note in the poem because it’s not, but there is a sense of Jack is this character trying to find agency, and not just in terms of his life, but actually also thinking about it culturally as well. How do you tell a story in which you belong? You know, and at the most fundamental level, that’s what the poem’s trying to do.

Mark: I think that question, just when you said, where do I locate myself? That really strikes a chord for me. I can see, obviously, coming from your experience as the author is obviously a central question for Jack in his monologue. And I think it’s also a question for us as readers and listeners when we are listening to this, you know, that slight ambiguity and am I colluding in this? Am I getting too involved or is it whatever, where do I locate myself. So, maybe we could have that question in our minds as we listen to this part of the poem again, and I really would recommend ladies and gentlemen that you read the whole thing because it’s a page-turner. You don’t often get to say that about a book of poetry in the sense of, you know, that maybe we’re accustomed to in genre, fiction, and so on. It’s often more of a considered, meditative, one at a time experience. But this really is, you’ll find yourself powering through the pages. So, thank you Rishi, for a really great reading and a really enlightening discussion.

Rishi: Thank you very much.


 

From Saffron Jack

by Rishi Dastidar

61. A jolly in the sub-continent

             61.1. when the sub-continent was ours –

             61.2. no, theirs –

                         61.2.1. to be jollied.

62. Two mad-dog Englishmen, short on high Victorian imperial boredom, long on chutzpah and capers

             62.1. smuggle some guns into some country.

                         62.1.1. The Kafiristan Job.

             62.2. Then some cunning, some chance, some shooting

             62.3. and one of them ends up running the show.

             62.4. The locals reckon he’s the Son, and they all start bowing down to him.

                         62.4.1. Just like that.

 

63. And you thought, wouldn’t that be bloody cool. Well, not just to be Sean Connery, that obviously would be bloody cool. But. You know, it’d also be cool to just control somewhere, especially a somewhere when you’ve felt that you’ve never fitted in wherever the where is you’re from. And then have loads of people suddenly decide that, yes, despite the fact that you look different, sound different, talk different, and scare them with your guns and what have you, still you’re a better bet than the current fat nabob they have, who goes around taking their bread from them, their grain from them, their money from them, taking their wives and daughters from them whenever he fancies, with only a little bit of prompting and cajoling, a twinkling smile or two which they understand even if they don’t understand what the smile is saying; they take that and the guns and the weapons and the drill and the tactics and the confidence you’ve given them, and they surround the fat nabob’s palace in a ring of chanting, heaving, determined bodies which won’t shift, and if he tried to sneak through he’d get sucked into a maw of flesh like being sucked into a whirlpool, so the nabob’s got no other choice but to give in and throw his hands up, throw his crown up, his queen up, and when he looks round at who to give them to so he isn’t torn into pieces the size of the stamps with his fat head on them, and the crowd are growling and shuffling and getting ready to start pitching sharp things at him, it’s only when he looks at you with the crown in one hand and imploring gesture being made by the other, and his eyes are watery and pleading and hopeful and hopeless and scared, and the crowd suddenly hush as they see where he’s looking, and you suddenly feel your arm lifting and your hand reaching out and you gently trace the band of the crown once round to make sure it is real, and then you close the whole of your hand around it, and you snatch it with a jerk, and look at it in the same way you looked at her when she slowly undressed that night in your room and then before anyone can do anything, take anything away, you put the crown on your head, pretending you’re not being reverential (but you are a bit), trying to be that cocky and cool person that all the people down there have been inspired by, and now should be slightly scared of, and then there’s a moment of pure, utter silence like you get at 4am, when everything is still or dead, and then you’re almost blown back by this gust or noise, this rush of love and fear and hope and expectations and dreams, all in this one blast, this one expansion of emotion.

 

64. Yeah, that’d be cool.

             64.1. Yeah, that’d be fucking cool.


 

Saffron Jack

Saffron Jack by Rishi Dastidar is published by Nine Arches Press.

Saffron Jack book cover

Saffron Jack is available from:

The publisher: Nine Arches Press

Amazon: UK | US

Bookshop.org: UK

 

Rishi Dastidar

Rish Dastidar portrait

Rishi Dastidar is a fellow of The Complete Works, and a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine. A poem from his debut Ticker-tape was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018. A second book, Saffron Jack, was published in 2020, and he is editor of The Craft: A Guide to Making Poetry Happen in the 21st Century. He is also co-editor of Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different: Poems from Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (Corsair). His third collection, Neptune’s Projects, will be published by Nine Arches Press in May 2023.

Photo: Naomi Woddis

 

A Mouthful of Air – the podcast

This is a transcript of an episode of A Mouthful of Air – a poetry podcast hosted by Mark McGuinness. New episodes are released every other Tuesday.

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The music and soundscapes for the show are created by Javier Weyler. Sound production is by Breaking Waves and visual identity by Irene Hoffman.

A Mouthful of Air is produced by The 21st Century Creative, with support from Arts Council England via a National Lottery Project Grant.

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